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Public health and the value of disobedience

Hastings G (2015) Public health and the value of disobedience, Public Health, 129 (8), pp. 1046-1054.

The writings of a sixteenth century French teenager may seem a stretch for a public health readership, but Etienne de la Boétie's treatise on Voluntary Servitude explains why unjust systems prevail and how they can be changed. They prevail, he shows, because we let them (the losers always vastly outnumber the winners); and they change when we retract our permission (as Ghandi demonstrated). These vital insights have inspired progress down the centuries – the enlightenment philosophers, the French Revolution, Tolstoy, the American civil rights movement as well as the Indian struggle against the British Empire. In an era when widening inequalities have become all too apparent, and the harm this does to the commonweal much better understood, this paper argues that La Boétie's analysis retains all its power and can inspire a new vision for public health.

Containment; Counter marketing; Critical capacity

AuthorsHastings Gerard
Publication date08/2015
Publication date online29/05/2015
Date accepted by journal12/03/2015
ISSN 0033-3506

Public Health: Volume 129, Issue 8

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